What happened to the thing I loved? 24.09.17
American football, like nothing else, rose before me in the 1980s while I was still working out how to be a boy. In Wales we had semi-professional rugby and a football team that never quite qualified for anything. The Darwinian in me stared from across the pond and sighed in awe at the San Francisco 49ers.
When manhood is something simultaneously remote and aspirational, what could be more alluring than the super-masculinity of heavily padded athletes, and your team as the best?
Several decades on and everyone's talking about American football for the wrong reasons. Some of its former players are dying from degenerative brain disease brought on from constant concussions and helmet-driven hits. It's also the sport where players are refusing to stand for the national anthem, in protest at police brutality against America's black community. Donald Trump yesterday entered this crucible of what makes America so American. Players who won't stand for the flag should be fired. Players who complain about the brain-destroying contact aren't real men. Shades of Trump's attack on John McCain in 2015: ' He's a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren't captured.' Meanwhile forty-four American football players stand accused of sexual assault or domestic violence, and no one bats an eyelid.
The game that meant so much to me one time, and the team that carried my fragile ego into battle on my behalf, I watch it now like a grown up watching its aging parent passing homophobic comments while shuffling to an armchair. I've watched the quarterback of my beloved 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, get blackballed from the NFL because he took a stand against brutality and racism, while white fans call Kaepernick a traitor for disrespecting the US military. Evidently, a shunned flag is many times a bigger crime than a teenager shot dead for being black, or a woman touched up or casually assaulted.
Within its DNA are still strands of something beautiful in American football: razzmatazz and the sleek glittered moves of cheerleaders. On that carefully marked gridiron swoop athletes specializing in smashing into or shimmying around enemy spaces. That brown, spinning ball, in slowly moving arcs, floating slow-mo into the hands of a waiting, ballet dancer of bruising power. The space-age stadiums, the mascots and the hot dogs. The Star Spangled Banner, the slick, prime-time entertainment, the sexism, the racism, the senile dementia.I was a small boy once who loved this game. I'm living as a woman now and staring, disbelieving at this aging behemoth as it lumbers, apparently, on its last legs, to the stench of burning hot dogs and Budweiser beer, my ambition to one day attend a game as a San Francisco female in scarlet and gold and a happy smile and coca cola, but is there anything left for me to watch?